SIMMONS: An historic day for Canadian tennis, just not a memorable one - Toronto Sun - 6 minutes read

SIMMONS: An historic day for Canadian tennis, just not a memorable one

Sport is so often about hype and hope and belief and so it was on this historic Tuesday night at the Rogers Cup Canadian Open tennis tournament that we were witness to a little of all of that. But almost none of it memorable.

The new kid, Bianca Andreescu, the emerging teenager, playing against the household name, Genie Bouchard, who in tennis terms may be yesterday’s news. But on this Tuesday, we watched Canadians play tennis and wished, believed, that for this day anyhow, in our country, on our television sets, in our homes, that they were better than they showed — that they were right there with the best in the world.

In the daytime in Montreal, two Canadian men played. In the night time in Toronto, two Canadian women played. The matches in both cities were longer than they were superb in any way. Neither winner, Andreescu in Toronto, Felix Auger-Aliassime in Montreal, put on a memorable show of any kind.

Sometimes though, what matters in big-time tennis isn’t putting on a show, it’s advancing. It doesn’t matter how. It just matters that you do. They did that on Tuesday. Tomorrow they don’t have to be perfect, to quote Dave Stieb, but they certainly have to play at a level beyond this to keep on advancing. Andreescu and Bouchard played a little bit of Alphonse and Gaston tennis. I don’t want it, you can have it. Bouchard won a sloppy first set 6-4. Andreescu dominated in the second set, winning 6-1. The third set ended with Andreescu winning 6-4, with the crowd standing for Bouchard when she broke Andreescu’s serve to even the score at 3-3. And then it turned for Andreescu when she broke back and eventually served out the final set, winning 6-4.

In all, two hours and nine minutes of all-Canadian tennis which, by itself, is an incredibly rare occurrence.

The history of women’s tennis in this country is more than thin. There was Carling Bassett for a short time and Helen Kelesi for a little after Bassett and for the most part a lot of waiting in between before Bouchard burst on to the scene, to become one of the best known female athletes in the world. She made the final at Wimbledon and then she crashed — not in commercials or online popularity — just in dropping far enough in the rankings that she needed a wild-card entry to make it to the Rogers Cup event.

This was, I was told, the biggest match between Canadian women since Kelesi beat Bassett 33 years ago at Hilton Head Island. If you don’t remember that match of 1986, you’re not alone. Pretty much everybody not named Bassett or Kelesi remembers it much.

And then there was Kelesi against Patricia Hy. And then there was …

We don’t know what’s next, but we do know Tuesday night was guaranteed win night for a Canadian. We just didn’t know which Canadian: Bouchard, trying to redefine her game, or Andreescu, the one-time winner on the WTA circuit, trying to come back from injuries that have put a short amazing run on hold. How new is Andreescu? She has never played Serena Williams, never faced Simona Halep, never played Ashleigh Barty. To know exactly who Andreescu is or where she’s going from here won’t begin to be defined until she starts lining up against the best in the world. She has two wins against Angelique Kerber. She’s never lost to anybody in the top 10 because she’s never played anybody in the top 10.

But she hits the ball hard. Really hard. Has a power game of sorts. And on nights in which she has played better than she did Tuesday, she will show more of her arsenal. From Tuesday night, though, the reviews should mostly be about here being a work in progress.

Bouchard may never factor again on the women’s tour. She is what she is now, a below-average professional, good enough to be the highest-rated Canadian player, man or woman in tennis history. That was yesterday. Yesterday is now a movie about Beatles music.

The very large crowd at the Aviva Centre was excited and divided and unsure about what they were seeing Tuesday night. They wanted something. They just weren’t certain as to what. Sometimes, they favoured the hometown girl, Andreescu. Sometimes they urged on Bouchard. Like the match itself, the crowd went back and forth, hoping to see something better, something memorable. Instead, it got mistake-filled tennis. A miss here. A miss there.

Bouchard won all her challenges Tuesday night. It was about all she won.

That was the evening version of the daytime all-Canadian match in Montreal. The truth is, Canada has never had a day with this kind of lineup in the history of the sport. With emerging Auger-Aliassime looking nothing like the contender he is built up to be, getting past Vasek Pospisil, who at this stage of his career is better known for his tennis politics than the quality of his game.

But it was Canadian man versus Canadian man in the afternoon, Canadian woman vs. Canadian woman at night. Four-plus hours of Canadian content on Canadian television. With a little bit of confusion.

The best Canadians we know or hope for or believe in, Andreescu on the women’s side, the exciting Auger-Aliassime, ranked below Milos Raonic but far more fun to watch, on the men’s side.

They’re young, they’re just starting out, they got by the pressure of being at home, which is never easy, on Tuesday.

They got by on this historic Canadian Tuesday, but leaving questions behind for another day.


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